Films I Neglected To Review: The Beauty And The Beastly
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/08/16 02:08:53
Please enjoy short reviews of the 1946 version of "Beauty and the Beast," "Demolition," "Hardcore Henry," "Louder than Bombs" and "Mr. Right"
After watching what seems to be an endless string of expensive fantasy films yoking together boring action setpieces, antiseptic digital effects and a bewildering need to attach newly created backstories to narratives that have somehow managed to survive for hundreds of years without requiring them, it is an immense pleasure to be able to bask in the glories of one of the all-time greats of the genre presented in the glory of 35mm. That is the joy in store for anyone who goes to the Gene Siskel Film Center this week to see the restored version of Jean Cocteau’s 1946 classic “Beauty and the Beast.” Of course, if you are a true film fan, you have almost certainly seen the sumptuous take on the fabled fairy tale before but if you have never seen it on the big screen, you owe it to yourself to check it out the way that it was meant to be seen in order to properly appreciate the uncommonly lovely visual stylings presented by Cocteau and cinematographer Henri Alekan that continue to take ones breath away even after 70 years. If you somehow have never gotten around to seeing it before and you live anywhere in the vicinity of the Siskel Center, you owe it to yourself to come and embrace all of the pleasures that it has to offer from the sly wit of the storyteller to the incredible romantic chemistry of Jean Marais and Josette Day. There have been any number of fine films based on this story that have come out over the years, ranging from the 1991 Disney hit to a a new French version with Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel that will be screening next month at the Chicago Critics Film Festival, but this one is not only the best of the bunch, it is one of the truly essential moviegoing experiences.
All people process grief in their own personal ways—some people wallow in misery for the longest time, others use it as a springboard to make changes in their lives while others land themselves in the middle of obnoxiously contrived blends of turgid melodrama and limp social satire that make “American Beauty” seem plausible and insightful by comparison. That last fate is the one that befalls Davis, the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the insipid “Demolition.” Davis is an investment banker whose seemingly perfect life falls apart when his wife is killed in a terrible car crash from which he emerges unscathed. At loose ends and realizing that he may not have truly loved his wife after all, he begins to literally demolish everything in his life—everything from balky refrigerators to his relationship with his in-laws (Chris Cooper and Polly Draper) to the cold and lonely house stuffed with ultimately meaningless possessions. Much of this information is conveyed via a series of letters that Davis writes to a vending machine company when he is rooked out of some M&M’s and this leads to him forming an unexpected connection with Karen (Naomi Watts), a customer service rep with her own set of complications—a bad personal relationship with her boss and a young son (Judah Lewis) who is questioning his sexual orientation (since he dresses like Chloe Grace Moretz, perhaps the question isn’t that complex)—that might be the thing to get them both out of their respective ruts.
The film is such a mess that one hardly even knows where to begin with it. For starters, the screenplay by Bryan Sipe is so ghastly that there are times when it almost feels like a parody of bad indie movies about people coming to terms with things. For starters, while the scenes of Davis destroying the various totems of his existence may be superficially entertaining, there is no real point or purpose to the destruction and as a result, these scenes have all the dramatic heft and profundity of those bits where David Letterman would toss things off the roof of a five-story building. The letter-writing conceit is a botch that starts off on an unconvincing note and continues on, even long after the point where such an approach would have seemed to run its course. Another big problem is that, for all his angst and anguish, Davis is ultimately not a particularly interesting character to follow for nearly two hours—what else can you say about a guy whose first great on-screen epiphany comes when he decides not to shave his chest before going to work? Gyllenhaal (who, after a string of intense dramas over the last few years, really needs to do a comedy as soon as possible) and Watts (whose character seems to have based her entire existence on the teachings of the Kirsten Dunst character in “Elizabethtown”) do what they can but are hampered severely by the fact that they are each stuck with roles that are assemblages of tics and quirks instead of flesh and blood characters. The film, by the way, was directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, whose previous film, “Wild,” was an infinitely better examination of someone forcing themselves out of their humdrum and spiritually dead circumstances following a tragedy. Coming out of “Demolition,” you will definitely be in the mood to destroy something with a sledgehammer, possibly starting with the negative to the film.
Have you been longing for a movie that would combine elements borrowed wholesale from such sources as “Crank,” “The Lady in the Lake” and the kind of video game that you get for free when you purchase a second-rate gaming system? Are you thirsting to experience a cinematic gimmick so annoying that it makes 3-D and Smell-O-Vision seem like genius ideas by comparison? Were you one of those slackwit guys who took to the internet to protest the “Rogue One” trailer because it suggested that female characters in genre films could actually be something other than damsels in distress or a nice pair of boobs? If you are, then you are both an idiot and the precise target audience for “Hardcore Henry,” a dismal action extravaganza that is one of the most irritating things that I have experienced in a movie theater in a long time. Essentially a feature-length version of a first-person shooter game, the entire film is seen through the eyes of Henry, a part-man, part-machine construct who goes after a madman (Danila Kozlovsky) who has kidnapped his scientist wife (Hayley Bennett) in order to force her to create an army of soldiers like him in order to take over the world. (Since the guy seems to have telekinetic powers—never explained, of course—that would give the X-Men pause, the cyborg army would seem to be unnecessary but never mind.) Once that set-up is established, the rest of the film features Henry trying to track down his beloved and killing everyone who gets in his path—needless to say, a lot of people get in his path, though not for very long. Aiding him in his pursuit is Jimmy, about whom I will say nothing more except to note that if your tolerance level for Sharlto Copely, who plays him, is on the low side, that is just another reason for you to consider giving this one a pass.
Look, I have nothing against goofball acton films in which the style is far more important than the substance—I have praised things as nutty as the Luc Besson oeuvre and pretty much the entire “Resident Evil” saga—but this is a case of a movie being entirely too much of something that wasn’t particularly good to begin with. For starters, the whole first person gimmick is one of those things that may sound intriguing in theory but which turns out to be an ugly and boring mess in practice for 90 minutes—it may have been some kind of technical marvel but since it doesn’t really add anything of value to the proceedings, it never manages to justify its existence here. Then there is the fact that while plenty of other action movies of late have seemed like video games being played by other people, this film takes that concept to a new level—right down to offering its version of cut scenes included to explain things in between the various levels—but fails to make it interesting, preferring instead to distract viewers with explosions, bare breasts and Sharlto Copely playing something like 10 different parts in a would-be tour de force that is anything but. Finally, the film is almost pornographically violent throughout (just the opening credits sequence alone would have earned the film its “R” rating) but the relentless symphony of sadism—in which people are shot, stabbed, slit, burned, blown up and torn apart like fresh bread—quickly gets tiresome after only a few minutes. In an interview quoted on IMDb, writer-director Ilya Naishuller apparently said “If ‘Hardcore Henry’ does well, then people are going to be more open to [first person filmmaking] and if it makes money, I guess some people will jump on that bandwagon and someone will make a piece of shit.” Too late.
If “Louder Than Bombs” does nothing else, it proves that Joachim Trier, the overrated Danish director of “Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st” who makes his English-language debut here, can make a film just as dull and forced in a foreign language as he can in his native tongue. Three years after the shocking death of famed war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) in a car crash, her older son, Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) leaves his wife and newborn baby to return home to his father (Gabriel Byrne) and troubled 15-year-old brother Conrad (Devin Druid) to help arrange her papers for an exhibition of her work. When a New York Times reporter (David Straithairn) plans to reveal that Isabelle’s death was actually a suicide, it causes a conflict between Jonah and his father over whether to finally confess the truth about her death to Conrad and inspires each of them to come to terms with each other and their own individual relationships with Isabelle. Like “Demolition,” “Louder Than Bombs” is a look at people dealing with grief and loss in their own particular ways and like “Demolition,” it fails to do it in a particularly interesting manner. None of the characters are particularly interesting, the situations are extremely contrived (the whole thing about keeping the suicide a secret from Conrad is beyond belief) and there are ultimately more plot threads than the film knows what to do with. The performances are okay at best but considering the caliber of actors on display here, that simply isn’t good enough. It isn’t as convulsively terrible as the likes of “Demolition”—it is far too staid to get on the nerves as that one did—but the film as a whole is just a drag that only the most masochistic of viewers will want to endure.
Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell are two of the more engaging screen personalities working these days but not even their combined efforts can make “Mr. Right” into anything other than the painfully unfunny disaster that it is. Kendrick plays Martha, who is reeling from a bad breakup when she meets Rockwell and the two forge an instant connection. He may be Mr. Right but he does have a couple of slight flaws—he is a professional killer who, thanks to a recent crisis of conscience, has begun whacking the people who hire him instead of the intended targets (after all, murder is wrong). This policy shift makes both him and Martha targets of a number of would-be killers, including an old acquaintance (Tim Roth) with a score to settle. Despite all this, can Martha still love the big lug? After all, he was always honest with her—is it his fault that when he said that he had to step out for a minute to kill someone in the parking lot during a date, she was under the impression that he was kidding?
And if any of that strikes you as particularly funny, then you are likely to find “Mr. Right” to be an embarrassment of riches while everyone else simply looks upon it as an embarrassment. Screenwriter Max Landis has essentially done little more here than rewrite his script for last year’s superficially similar “American Ultra” (in which a stoner discovers that he is actually a deep cover and exceptionally lethal CIA agent) but has somehow managed to make it even dumber the second time around. It is possible to make a film involving a romance where one person finds out that the other is a hired killer that works both as a comedy and a romance—the John Cusack vehicle “Grosse Point Blank” was an exceptionally brilliant example of this—but you need a deft touch to pull off the potentially clashing tones and this film never figures it out—the jokes aren’t particularly funny, the action scenes are perfunctory and the ever-rising body count casts a pall over the proceedings that it cannot shake. There are a couple of moments here and there where Kendrick and Rockwell start to click together but then the script kicks in and they are forced to act like idiots again. About the best thing that one can say about “Mr. RIght” is that it is ultimately so inconsequential that anyone who actually sits through it will be hard-pressed to recall anything about it in a few weeks times—hopefully the same goes for Kendrick and Rockwell as well.